Twenty-two year old Sakib Bin Rashid, a student at Dhaka University, was more than happy to lend a hand when he was approached to coach the debate team at his alma mater _ Saint Joseph Higher Secondary School _ for the Asia World Schools Debating Championship, which was held recently in Bangkok.
Sakib Bin Rashid, centre, with the debating team from Saint Joseph Higher Secondary School, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The event, which was founded by Anglo Singapore International School, attracted more than 29 teams from nine countries _ Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand.
While they did not finish in the top three, he said the experience was priceless for his team, which are between the ages of 13 to 16.
In an interview, Rashid opened up about a number of issues, including the difficulties a debating contest can pose to the most well-prepared team.
What were some of the challenges your team faced during the tournament?
Debating against the top schools from all over the world is a challenge in itself. The quality of this tournament was also high, so that also posed a challenge for us. The biggest hurdle was to find rebuttals to the opposition's too-well-analysed arguments. Anyway, we are happy that we have become one of the octo-finalists [ranked 16th] of the tournament.
How did you go about teaching debating skills to your team?
They were only in Class 6 [the first year of secondary school] when I first met them, so they have always looked up to me as a big brother. It was important that they were already very curious about debating from the start. That helped the teaching very much. I used to get them together once or twice a week after school for debating sessions. In those sessions, I used to discuss know-how on debating important issues that they would likely face in future tournaments.
I used to give them topics to prepare and later they debated against each other. This sort of practice enhances debating skills a lot. And finally, the regular participation in local debating tournaments also helped.
Tell us more about your education system.
Our education system introduced "creative questions" a few years back. These creative questions involve real-life situations, which are not from the book. So the students need to not only memorise the content, but also to understand it enough to know the real life application. Our government provides free education for women till Class 12 and for men till Class 8. Women are given extra years to study for free to encourage their education. Often women are not allowed to pursue education by their family because it is thought to be fruitless, as they are going to get married and take care of the household. But it has been realised that women make great contributions to our society and economy, and their education is important. This free education is a form of incentive to the women and to their family so that many women continue their education.
Do you think good debating skills can help you to be a good politician?
A good debater learns to think rationally, speak properly and gain convincing power. All these abilities are needed in politics. Our politics lack rational and analytical thinking. Through years of practise, debaters learn the art of brainstorming. Thus they can be better policy makers of the future.
They can also deliver good speeches in a public forum or parliament. And as we prepare our debaters to be free from all sorts of cultural and racial stereotypes, they can be very important assets for our politics in the future.
What do you and the team do in your free time?
Our debaters have many hobbies, such as listening to music, reading novels, photography, automobiles, playing guitar, and coin collecting. I like to read and write poetry. If I have a long vacation, we like go to the beach, especially the longest beach in the world _ Cox's Bazar in our country. We like to go to there and enjoy the sea.
Sometimes we go to Bashundhara city, where the 12th largest shopping mall in the world has constantly been named the most-visited attraction in Dhaka.
How does Thailand compare to Bangladesh?
Thailand is a lot different from my country. Thailand has a much better transportation system than ours. The population is well managed, unlike in Bangladesh. The infrastructure in Bangkok is better than most of Dhaka. There are great shopping malls in Bangkok _ there are not many in Bangladesh.
But I believe Bangladesh has more natural beauty, although I have not seen the whole of Thailand. The people of Bangladesh are much more friendly and hospitable, specially to foreigners. I think this is the biggest difference.
What would be some of the common misconceptions you would like to erase about your country?
People always focus the dark side of my country, but there are also sides they don't care about.
Some people think my country is not safe, but I can tell you it is quite safe now. We celebrate religious festivals together _ the Muslim families often invite us to enjoy the festival with them. Every country has a dark side; our new generation want other nationalities to know our country is interesting. We have great places and great culture. There are many beautiful places in the capital city, Dhaka _ the temples are a different style to Thailand. If you travel to Bangladesh you should stay in the capital city at least four or five days.
I really want other people to know what a really good place Bangladesh is.